Over the River, by John Galsworthy

Chapter 33

The speeches were over, and the Judge was summing up. From beside her father, on one of the back benches now, Dinny could see Jerry Corven still sitting in front beside his solicitors, and ‘very young’ Roger sitting alone. Clare was not in Court. Neither was young Croom.

The Judge’s voice came slowly, as if struggling past his teeth. It seemed to Dinny marvellous how he remembered everything, for he looked but little at his notes; nor could she detect anything that was not fair in his review of the evidence. Now and again his eyes, turned towards the jury, seemed to close, but his voice never stopped. Now and again he poked his neck forward, priest and tortoise for a moment coalescing; then he would draw it back and speak as it were to himself.

“The evidence not being of the conclusive nature which we expect of evidence tendered to this Court”—(No ‘calling with a cup of tea,’ she thought), “counsel for the petitioner in his able speech laid great stress, and rightly, upon credibility. He directed your attention especially to the respondent’s denial that there was any renewal of the marital relationship between the petitioner and herself on the occasion when he went to her rooms. He suggested that there was reason for her denial in her desire to spare the feelings of the co-respondent. But you must consider whether a woman who, as she says, was not in love with the co-respondent, had not encouraged him, or been intimate with him in any way, would go so far as to perjure herself to save his feelings. According to her account, he was from the beginning of their acquaintanceship in the nature of a friend to her and nothing more. On the other hand, if you believe the petitioner on that point — and there seems no sufficient reason for his volunteering perjury — it follows that you disbelieve the respondent, and she has deliberately denied evidence which was in her favour rather than against her. It seems difficult to believe that she would do that unless she had feelings for the co-respondent warmer than those of mere friendship. This is, in fact, a very crucial point, and the decision you come to as to which is true — the husband’s statement or the wife’s denial of it — seems to me a cardinal factor in your consideration of whether or not to accept the respondent’s evidence in the rest of the case. You have only what is called circumstantial evidence to go upon; and in such cases the credibility of the parties is a very important factor. If on one point you are satisfied that one of the parties is not speaking the truth, then the whole of his or her evidence is tinged with doubt. In regard to the co-respondent, though he conveyed an impression of candour, you must remember that there is a traditional belief in this country, regrettable or not, that a man whose attentions have involved a married woman in a situation of this kind must not, in vulgar parlance, ‘give her away.’ You must ask yourselves how far you can treat this young man, who is quite obviously, and by his own admission, deeply in love, as a free, independent, truthful witness.

“On the other hand, and apart from this question of general credibility, you must not let appearances run away with your judgment. In these days young people are free and easy in their association with each other. What might have seemed conclusive indication in the days of my youth is now by no means conclusive. In regard to the night, however, that was spent in the car, you may think it well to pay particular attention to the answer the respondent gave to my question: Why, when the lights went out, they did not simply stop a passing car, tell the occupants what had happened, and request to be given a lead into Henley. Her answer was: ‘I don’t think we thought of it, my Lord. I did ask Mr. Croom to follow a car, but it was going too fast.’ It is for you to consider, in the light of that answer, whether the respondent really wanted that simple solution of the difficulty they were in, namely, a lead into Henley, where no doubt the damage could have been repaired; or whence at least she could have returned to London by train. It is said by her counsel that to have gone into Henley at that time with a damaged car would have made them too conspicuous. But you will remember that she has said she was not aware that she was being watched. If that was so, you will consider whether the question of conspicuosity would have been present to her mind.”

Dinny’s gaze by now had left the Judge’s face and was fixed upon the jury. And, while she searched the lack of expression on those twelve faces, a ‘cardinal factor’ was uppermost in her mind: It was easier to disbelieve than to believe. Remove whatever tempering influence there might be from a witness’s voice and face, and would not the spicier version of events prevail? The word ‘damages’ took her eyes back to the Judge’s face.

“Because,” he was saying, “if you should come to a decision in favour of the petitioner, the question of the damages he claims will arise. And in regard to that I must draw your attention to one or two salient considerations. It cannot be said that claims for damages in divorce suits are common in these days, or indeed looked on with any great favour in this Court. It has become disagreeable to think of women in terms of money. Not much more than a hundred years ago it was actually not unknown — though illegal even then — for a man to offer his wife for sale. Such days — thank God! — are long past. Though damages can still be asked for in this Court, they must not be what is called ‘vindictive,’ and they must bear reasonable relation to the co-respondent’s means. In this case the petitioner has stated that if any damages are awarded him, they will be settled on the respondent. That is, one may say, the usual practice nowadays where damages are claimed. In regard to the co-respondent’s, means, if it should become necessary for you to consider the question of damages, I would remind you that his counsel stated that he has no private means, and offered to provide evidence of the fact. One has never known counsel to make a statement of that sort without being sure of his ground, and I think you may take the co-respondent’s word for it that his only means of subsistence are derived from his — er —‘job,’ which appears to carry a salary of four hundred pounds a year. Those, then, are the considerations which should guide you if you should have to consider the amount, if any, of damages to be awarded. Now, members of the jury, I send you to your task. The issues are grave for the future of these people, and I am sure that I can trust you to give them your best attention. You may retire if you wish to do so.”

Dinny was startled by the way he withdrew almost at once into contemplation of a document which he raised from the desk in front.

‘He really is an old ducky,’ she thought, and her gaze went back to the jury rising from their seats. Now that the ordeals of her sister and Tony Croom were over, she felt very little interested. Even the Court today was but sparsely filled.

‘They only came to enjoy the suffering,’ was her bitter thought.

A voice said:

“Clare is still in the Admiralty Court when you want her.” Dornford, in wig and gown, was sitting down beside her. “How did the Judge sum up?”

“Very fairly.”

“He IS fair.”

“But barristers, I think, might wear: ‘Fairness is a virtue, a little more won’t hurt you,’ nicely printed on their collars.”

“You might as well print it round the necks of hounds on a scent. Still, even this Court isn’t as bad in that way as it used to be.”

“I’m so glad.”

He sat quite still, looking at her. And she thought:

‘His wig suits the colour of his face.’

Her father leaned across her.

“How long do they give you to pay costs in, Dornford?”

“A fortnight is the usual order, but you can get it extended.”

“It’s a foregone conclusion,” said the General glumly. “Well, she’ll be free of him.”

“Where is Tony Croom?” asked Dinny.

“I saw him as I came in. At the corridor window — quite, close. You can’t miss him. Shall I go and tell him to wait?”

“If you would.”

“Then will you all come to my chambers when it’s over?” Receiving their nods, he went out, and did not come back.

Dinny and her father sat on. An usher brought the Judge a written communication; he wrote upon it, and the usher took it back to the jury. Almost immediately they came in.

The broad and pleasant face of her who looked like a housekeeper had a mortified expression as if she had been overridden; and, instantly, Dinny knew what was coming.

“Members of the jury, are you agreed on your verdict?”

The foreman rose.

“We are.”

“Do you find the respondent guilty of adultery with the co-respondent?”

“Yes.”

“Do you find the co-respondent guilty of adultery with the respondent?”

‘Isn’t that the same?’ thought Dinny.

“Yes.”

“And what damages do you say the co-respondent should be ordered to pay?”

“We think that he should pay the costs of all the parties to the action.”

Through Dinny passed the thought: ‘The more one loves the more one pays.’ Barely listening to the Judge’s words, she whispered to her father, and slipped away.

“Young Croom was leaning against the stone that framed the window, and she thought she had never seen so desolate a figure.

“Well, Dinny?”

“Lost. No damages, just all the costs. Come out, I want to talk to you.”

They went in silence.

“Let’s go and sit on the Embankment.”

Young Croom laughed. “The Embankment! Marvellous!”

No other word passed between them till they were seated under a plane tree whose leaves were not yet fully unfurled in that cold spring.

“Rotten!” said Dinny.

“I’ve been a complete fool all through, and there’s an end of it.”

“Have you had anything to eat these last two days?”

“I suppose so. I’ve drunk quite a lot, anyway.”

“What are you going to do now, dear boy?”

“See Jack Muskham, and try and get another job somewhere out of England.”

Dinny felt as if she had grasped a stick by the wrong end. She could only be helpful if she knew Clare’s feelings.

“No one takes advice,” she said, “but couldn’t you manage to do nothing at all for a month or so?”

“I don’t know, Dinny.”

“Have those mares come?”

“Not yet.”

“Surely you won’t give that job up before it’s even begun?”

“It seems to me I’ve only got one job at the moment — to keep going somehow, somewhere.”

“Don’t I know that feeling? But don’t do anything desperate! Promise! Good-bye, my dear, I must hurry back.”

She stood up and pressed his hand hard.

When she reached Dornford’s chambers, her father and Clare were already there, and ‘very young’ Roger with them.

Clare’s face looked as though the whole thing had happened to someone else.

The General was saying:

“What will the total costs come to, Mr. Forsyte?”

“Not far short of a thousand, I should say.”

“A thousand pounds for speaking the truth! We can’t possibly let young Croom pay more than his own share. He hasn’t a bob.”

‘Very young’ Roger took snuff.

“Well,” said the General, “I must go and put my wife out of her misery. We’re going back to Condaford this afternoon, Dinny. Coming?”

Dinny nodded.

“Good! Many thanks, Mr. Forsyte. Early in November, then — the decree? Good-bye!”

When he had gone Dinny said in a low voice:

“Now that it’s over, what do you really think?”

“As I did at first: If you’d been your sister we should have won.”

“I want,” said Dinny coldly, “to know whether you believe them or not?”

“On the whole — yes.”

“Is it impossible for a lawyer to go further than that?”

‘Very young’ Roger smiled.

“No one tells the truth without mental reservations of some kind.”

‘Perfectly true,’ thought Dinny. “Could we have a taxi?”

In the cab Clare said: “Do something for me, Dinny. Bring me my things to the Mews.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t feel like Condaford. Did you see Tony?”

“Yes.”

“How is he?”

“Rotten.”

“Rotten!” repeated Clare, bitterly. “How could I help what they sprung on me? I lied for him, anyway.”

Dinny, looking straight before her, said:

“When you can, tell me exactly what your feeling towards him is.”

“When I know myself, I will.”

“You’ll want something to eat, darling.”

“Yes, I’m hungry. I’ll stop here in Oxford Street. I shall be cleaning up when you come with my things. I feel as if I could sleep the clock round, and probably I shan’t sleep a wink. When you’re divorced, Dinny, don’t defend — you keep on thinking of better answers.”

Dinny squeezed her arm, and took the taxi on to South Square.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37